My Summer Vacation

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The Famous Franchise is shut down this week as they move the studio to a new location.  They didn’t give the old place much of a send off.  There were only a handful of people at the last party on Thursday and only one lady so I decided to skip it.  I’ve spent a lot of time there – some good times and some not so good times – but we’ll see how the new place turns out.

Since I have no dance stories to tell, I’m going to bore you with tales of my childhood because the 4th of July is next week and that holiday always brings up some great memories.  Random fun fact – I’m a direct descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  No, he’s not particularly famous but it made some kind of weird connection for me that made the day a little more special.

So I grew up in a mid sized town.  We lived in kind of an interesting neighborhood.  The houses were generally older (ours was probably about 70-80 years old in the time frame I’m discussing) and the neighborhood was probably pretty solidly middle class.  I don’t know for sure but there were certainly richer and poorer parts of town so that’s where I’m going.  Our house was at the end of an alley made of brick so it had to be pretty old.  But this was in the day when you knew your neighbors.  In the time we lived there, a lot of the houses turned over but things were relatively stable from our teens onward.  At that point, my brothers and I were the oldest “kids” in the neighborhood and that meant a lot of babysitting jobs so we knew all the younger kids.

I don’t know how it started but the 4th became a neighborhood picnic.  There was a vacant lot next to our house (owned by the people in the house next to it) where we played kickball and softball as kids.  Well, on the morning of the 4th, people would start bringing down picnic tables, chairs, grills and assorted other things.  There was never a scheduled start time so it just kind of came together organically.

Things would usually start with a game of kickball or softball just because all the kids were out (back in the day we spent all days outside in the summer) so it gave you something to do while waiting for dinner and then for it to get dark.  There was a family that lived there for a couple of years where the wife was from Central America (can’t remember where) so she’d make a pinata filled with candy and all the young kids got shots at it with a bat and a blindfold.  As the older kids, we would be the ones moving the pinata up and down on a rope so the younger kids would swing and miss.  Sooner or later, we’d just leave it in the path so someone could take a good whack at it and split it open.  Our other unofficial job was to get some candy for the real little kids and the kid with the blindfold who was always at a disadvantage when the candy started spilling out.

Back in the day, real fireworks were illegal.  Early on that meant all we could get were smoke bombs, snakes and sparklers.  Later, we could get big packages with fountains and cones and other things that sent off brightly colored sparks but nothing that exploded.  As the responsible kid who usually had money, I’d tend to end up with more than my brothers because I could end up buying additional stuff that they couldn’t.

I don’t even know if they still make snakes.  They were these pellets of what seemed like charcoal that would “grow” a long ash thing that looked like a snake.  Invariably, the snake would break into a couple of pieces and wasn’t that impressive.  The great thing was you could just leave this ash thing on the driveway because nobody cleaned up until the next day.  To be honest, the snakes got to be so boring that we took to lighting the whole box on fire just to see these giant things rising out of the flaming box.  Yes, our parents let us play with matches – it was a different time.  But the snakes and the smoke bombs were the only thing we could lite off during the day.  Well, our parents would always tell us to wait but a few things sometimes didn’t make it.  Smoke bombs were a little more fun because you could throw them and leave a trail of smoke.  Yes, we were picking up a hot, smoking item and tossing it across the yard – I told you it was a different time.  We’d get some of the younger kids down to watch because they often wouldn’t have anything but sparklers so our snakes and smoke bombs seemed “cool”.

My Mom would always make a single layer chocolate cake with white frosting and red and blue decorations.  She might have made a red cake one year – I can’t remember but it seemed like it was always chocolate.  Some years it was decorated like a flag.  Sometimes it was just those frosting stars you can make with the appropriate tip and something like “Happy July 4th” written across the cake.  Mom made some great cake and the downside was that food was shared so it meant all the other kids got a shot at a piece meaning there would be years when there was no cake left.  Everyone had burgers or hot dogs or something more ambitious and a selection of the type of picnic salads you would expect plus assorted chips and things.  For the most part, you ate what your parents brought but nobody turned you down if you wanted to try something else.

After dinner, the adults would sometimes play cards or sometimes just sit and talk.  Not going to lie, there was a lot of alcohol consumption (not for us kids though, the rules weren’t that loose).  But they would have beer and wine and sit and drink and talk while we’d get ready to set off whatever we had.

When you were young, sparklers could be kind of entertaining but you got 10-12 in a pack and after running around with two of them in your hands a few times, it got old.  There were always those few sparks that would hit your hand or some other part.  They were hot but wouldn’t really burn which always seemed a bit strange.  Of course, you never touched the wire because that was hot enough to burn.

Well, as we got older, you start to experiment with what you can do with sparklers and throwing them makes for an interesting show.  That made clean up the next day a bit more of a pain and you’d sometimes find random sparkler remains over the next couple of weeks.  Sometimes they ended up in a tree which wasn’t a good thing.  There was one year when the adults got into it and started launching them across the street that ran in front of our house (remember I said there was alcohol).  I think one landed in a pile of brush and started a small fire and that was the end of that.  Its all fun and games until someone starts a fire.

One year, I was particularly bored with the sparklers, so I took all that I had and ground all the sparkly stuff off and filled up a little can with all the sparkly powder.  Then, we bent a sparkler and stuck it in the can and lit it from the bottom so the flame would travel up and light all the rest of them.  That made for a nice little show.

Then, we take turns lighting off the assorted cones and fountains trying to save the best for last.  I believe we were the only ones who had that kind of stuff.  I think the rest of the kids were a little too young to be lighting off things so it was left to my brothers and I to put on a show for the rest of the kids.  We were also supposed to be sort of watching the kids so that we made sure everyone was far away when something was lit.  This left the parents free to stay at their tables laughing and talking and occasionally making comments about a particular fountain.

There were fireworks displays in town but we never went to them and it really didn’t seem like we were missing anything.  Our display was never really that impressive but it still turned out to be a good time.  When we were done and it was fully dark, the party would start to break up as the younger kids had to be put to bed.  Sometimes, the adults would end up coming back and staying up so you’d hear the voices until late into the night.  Mom would always be up early the next day starting the clean up and she’d sent us out to pick up the remains of the cones and fountains that littered our driveway.

We have our own July 4th tradition here.  There is an outdoor concert with our symphony and it ends with a very impressive fireworks display.  And we enjoy going.  I’m sure there are still events like our old party happening somewhere but it really feels like that was a completely different time and place then where we are today.  And if things like that aren’t happening, then I think people are missing out.

Anyway, because the holiday falls on Wednesday, I’m taking the week off and I’m not sure that the studio will be fully functional so it means I’ll have another week without dance.  Whatever will I find to talk about??  I’m sure something will strike me.



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